Basketball:UConn defeats Houston in a blowout rematch game
Five minutes into Thursday night's game at Gampel Pavilion, the UConn men's basketball team had a 16-3 lead, and Houston coach James Dickey had already used two of his timeouts. At the end of the timeout, with the roaring crowd on its feet, UConn guard Shabazz Napier and his teammates smacked the floor.
"We've got this thing, it's called kills," Napier said. "We get three [stops] in a row, it's a kill. We understood that we had two stops in a row and we needed one more."
The Huskies got the kill, and that 13-point deficit was as close as the Cougars would get the rest of the night, as UConn rolled to an 80-43 victory, avenging a 75-71 loss in Texas on New Year's Eve.
UConn (17-4, 5-3 American Athletic Conference) scored 12 points in the final two minutes of the first half, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ryan Boatright, to bring a 51-22 lead into the break. In the second half, Houston (11-10, 3-5 AAC) held the Huskies to just 10 of 32 shooting, but UConn was still able to keep a stranglehold on the contest.
"I told the guys that this wasn't a 'revenge game' for us," Ollie said. "We just wanted to show Houston that we were a better team [than the last time they played]. That was the only goal we had in mind...They ruined my New Year's. Now we just ruined their Chinese New Year's."
The Huskies' win came without second-leading scorer DeAndre Daniels, who suffered a high ankle sprain at Rutgers Saturday night.
"The next guy stepped up," Napier said of playing without Daniels. "When Boat was out, the next guy stepped up. Same with DeAndre, when he was out the next guy stepped up."
Houston's 43 points was the fewest UConn has allowed all season and the fewest by any opponent since Butler in the 2011 National Championship Game. UConn also grabbed 55 rebounds, the most in the Ollie Era.
Even more impressive for the Huskies is that they held TaShawn Thomas, the fifth-leading scorer and the second-leading rebounder in the American, to four points and six rebounds. Thomas had not been held to under 10 points all season.
"The Ace of Spades of the game was TaShawn Thomas," Ollie said. "And to hold him to [four] points and [six] rebounds, that's just a great job by Amida [Brimah], and then Phil [Nolan] gave us a lift on the offensive and defensive end. It was just a complete game by us."
Nolan posted 10 points for the second time in his career Thursday night, falling one short of his career high. He added seven rebounds, as did freshman Kentan Facey, who finished with career highs of seven points and three blocks.
"Tonight was one of those nights when I just happened to get the ball a lot more than usual," Nolan said. "Fortunately, I converted."
Napier puts a lot of the blame on himself for the Dec. 31 loss in Houston, UConn's first game in the American Athletic Conference. But tonight, the senior point guard set the tone from the start. The reigning AAC Player of the Week finished a game-high 19 points, moving past Jeff Adrien into 14th place on the all-time scoring list.
"Today, I was much more aggressive," Napier said, "and I understood that I had to be more aggressive because DeAndre was out...In the first half at Houston, I wasn't the guy setting the tone. The second half I did and we came back. But we knew these guys were good, but we knew that if we played our game they weren't going to be able to play with us."
Now on a three-game winning streak after a Jan. 18 loss to Louisville, UConn will take a week off before travelling to Ohio to take on No. 13 Cincinnati, who remains unbeaten in the American after a win Thursday night over the 12th-ranked Cardinals.
Ollie says that the top priority during the time off is to get Daniels back to full health. But after seeing what his team was able to do without Daniels tonight, Ollie is pleased with the Huskies' progress.
"We're on our way," Ollie said. "We're trending in the right way - rebounding, defense - everything is trending in the right way. Now we've got to keep it up."
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